UK lawmakers say Wagner Group is like an ‘international criminal mafia’

The British Parliament warned that the mercenary organization the Wagner Group could pose a serious threat to the West in a report released Wednesday.

A key force in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the group has also worked throughout the Middle East and Africa, often acting on behalf of Moscow, the report said.

“Even when the Wagner Network has not acted as a direct proxy of the Russian Government, the Kremlin is likely to have benefited from its presence. So long as the Wagner Network survives in some form, we believe that countries may still, despite an apparent failure of Wagner to deliver on their commitments, turn to the network for security reasons, despite the high price: atrocities, corruption and the plunder of natural resources,” it states.

“There are serious national security threats to the UK and its allies of allowing malign PMCs to continue to thrive, not to mention devastating human consequences.”

Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin turned on Russian military leadership in a short-lived coup last month. After turning his troops from the front lines in Ukraine towards Moscow, Prigozhin struck a deal with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and sent his army there instead.

In Belarus, Wagner troops have been reported training the Belarusian military, though it is unclear exactly how strong their numbers are after the mutiny.

The group has ended its fighting in Ukraine, which was mostly focused in the east of the country using convict soldiers, many of whom were released from Russian prisons to fight.

“They may present themselves as a highly trained, professional fighting force but their indiscipline, their excessive violence and their financial motivation mean that the network has functioned like an international criminal mafia, fueling corruption and plundering natural resources,” the report says.

The Parliament analysis comes in the wake of that mutiny, emphasizing that now more than ever, it is important to diminish the Wagner Group’s influence. The report says that the U.K. government has focused most of its effort on countering Wagner in Ukraine, and that ignoring its operations elsewhere in the world is the wrong move.

“It is a significant failing to see the Wagner Network primarily through the prism of Europe, not least given its geographic spread and the impact of its activities on UK interests further abroad. It is deeply regrettable that it was not until early 2022 that the Government began to invest greater resource in understanding the Wagner Network, despite Wagner fighters having already conducted military operations in at least seven countries for almost a decade,” the report reads.

The report urges the British government to declare the Wagner Group a terrorist organization, a move that has been pushed by members of Congress in the U.S. as well, and to better communicate with allies over identities of Wagner members and sanctions.

The Wagner Group has repeatedly been targeted by U.S. sanctions, including additional sanctions on the group’s African activity last month.

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